The Hackaday Prize: An Ultra Low Cost 3D Printer Controller

This isn’t a Hackaday Prize entry that will change the world, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a place for it. [vdirienzo] is building an ultra low-cost 3D printer controller for 3D printers and other CNC machine. It’s not going to change the world, but it is a rather interesting little device.

This printer controller is very minimal, with a single-sided circuit board with just enough parts and components to make this board useful. The stepper motor drivers are from Pololu, and most of the other components are stuff you could pull out of a reasonably stocked junk drawer. The microcontroller is rather interesting; it’s an Arduino Nano. Instead of the ATMega644 and ‘Mega1280 microcontrollers found on other 8-bit printer controller boards, [vdirienzo] slimmed down the Teacup firmware to fit on the ATMega328 in the Arduino Nano.

The SinapTec is not by any means the first effort to create an ultra low-cost controller board for a 3D printer that can be assembled at home. The RepRap Gen 7 electronics can be manufactured on a RepRap or small CNC mill. There’s not much to these boards – just a small, single-sided board. If you want a small, simple, and cheap controller board for a 3D printer, this is all you need.

While a cheap 3D printer controller board doesn’t really fit with the ‘change the world’ theme of The Hackaday Prize, that doesn’t mean there’s still not a place in the contest for [vdirienzo]’s entry; we have a Best Product category, with a $100k prize and a six month residency in the Hackaday Design Lab. If that’s not enough reason to build something cool – even if it won’t change the world – we don’t know what is.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Vacuum Gauge Display; Arduino Replaces Industrial

Arduinos! They’re a great tool that make the world of microcontrollers pretty easy, and in [cptlolalot]’s case, they also give us an alternative to buying expensive, proprietary parts. [cptlolalot] needed a gauge for an expensive vacuum pump, and rather than buying an expensive part, built a circuit around an Arduino to monitor the vacuum.

pressure-gauge-thumbThis project goes a little beyond simple Arduino programming though. A 12V to 5V power supply drives the device, which is laid out on a blank PCB. The display fits snugly over the circuit which reduces the footprint of the project, and the entire thing is housed in a custom-printed case with a custom-printed pushbutton. The device gets power and data over the RJ45 connection so no external power is needed. If you want to take a look at the code, it’s linked on [cptlolalot]’s reddit thread.

This project shows how much easier it can be to grab an Arduino off the shelf to solve a problem that would otherwise be very expensive. We’ve been seeing Arduinos in industrial applications at an increasing rate as well, which is promising not just because it’s cheap but because it’s a familiar platform that will make repairs and hacks in the future much easier for everyone.

Modern Spin on an Old Technology

It seems that the longer a technology has been around, the more likely it is that all of the ideas and uses for that technology will be fleshed out. For something that’s been around for around 5500 years it must be especially rare to teach an old dog new tricks, but [Sebastian] has built a sundial that’s different from any we’ve ever seen.

Once done with all of the math for the sundial to compute its angles and true north based on his latitude and longitude, [Sebastian] used Autodesk Inventor to create a model. From there it was 3D printed, but the interesting part here is that the 3D printer allowed for him to leave recesses for numbers in the sundial. The numbers are arranged at such angles inside the sundial so that when it’s a particular hour, the number of the hour shines through the shadow of the sundial which creates a very unique effect. This would be pretty difficult to do with any machine tools but is easily accomplished via 3D printing.

[Sebastian] wanted a way to appreciate the beauty of time, and he’s certainly accomplished that with this new take on  the sundial! He also wonders what it would be like if there was a giant one in a park. This may also be the first actual sundial build we’ve featured. What does that mean? Check out this non-pv, sun-powered clock that isn’t a sundial.

Thanks to [Todd] for the tip!

Review: Printrbot Assembled Simple Metal

Hackaday is getting back into the swing of doing reviews, and with that comes reviews of the tool du jour, 3D printers. I have some reservations about reviewing a 3D printer; they’re a new technology, and what may be standard today could be hopelessly outdated in a few months time. Remember geared extruders? The new hotness is, apparently, direct drive extruders.

This is a review of the Printrbot Assembled Simple Metal. If you need any evidence that reviews of 3D printers have a shelf life, you only need to look at the Getting Started guides for this printer. When I bought my Simple Metal, the Printrbot recommended software stack was Slic3r and Repetier-Host. Barely three months later, Cura is now the Printrbot recommended software stack. If you think a simple change in software is inconsequential, check out these prints:

prusa parts
Prusa i3 X-carriages. Left sliced by Slic3r, right sliced by Cura

The print on the left was sliced with Slic3r. The print on the right was sliced with Cura. Notice the small teeth that grip the timing belt on each of these prints. With the Cura-sliced print, everything is fine. The Slic3r-sliced print is a complete failure, not of the machine, but the recommended software for the machine.

Therefore, if the goal of writing a review is to have a definitive opinion of a piece of equipment, a number of questions must be addressed. Since most 3D printing software is open source, should software be included in the review? Is the value proposition of a 3D printer simply a function of price to build volume (this seems to be the standard metric now), or are there intangibles? Should the review cover the quality of prints out of the box, or should the review only focus on print quality after dozens of hours of tweaking? I simply don’t know the answers to these questions, and I suspect you couldn’t get any two people to agree on the answers to these questions.

With that said, I feel I have used this printer enough to make a judgment call as to if this printer was a good buy.

Continue reading “Review: Printrbot Assembled Simple Metal”

3D Printing Different Colors with a Single Extruder

Let’s be honest, multi-extruder 3D printers don’t work the greatest — even MakerBot decided to get rid of the feature in their latest line of printers. So what are you going to do when you want to print a multi-colored object with your trusty single extruder? Pause the print like a savage and exchange the filament? No, no, it’s much easier than that — well, you’re still going to have to switch the filament.

[Jan Henrik] has put together a simple script in OpenScad to split up 3D files into layers in order to facilitate printing in multiple colors (or even materials). You load in the file, tell it the print height you want to do, export, convert to G-Code, print, rinse, repeat. In between the layers you have time to purge the extruder, remove any excess skirt or support material, and then hit print again. Quite a bit easier than hitting pause and jogging the extruder out of the way (while avoiding plastic dribble coming out of your extruder!).

Meanwhile if your prints get interrupted — or fail a lot — you might be interested in this project by a group of MIT researchers. It’s an add-on for 3D printers that uses a laser scanner to evaluate how much of the part was printed, allowing you to restart a print that failed!

Modern Tools From Old Table Saws

Somehow or another, the modern hackerspace isn’t centered around table saws, drill presses, band saws, lathes, or mills. The 3D printer and laser cutter are the tools of the future. No one has yet figured out how to build a 3D printer or laser cutter out of several hundred pounds of cast iron, so until then [Chad] will lead the charge modifying old table saws into these modern machine tools.

The build logs for the laser engraver and 3D printer are pic heavy and text lean, but there’s enough detail to make a few educated guesses. Both of these machines use Craftsman table saws from the early to mid 1950s for the chassis. Inside each chassis, the rails, belts, and shafts that make up a Cartesian bot are installed, and the electronics are tucked gently inside.

There’s a lot of creativity in this build; the electronics for the 3D printer are tucked away in the shell of the old motor. For the laser cutter, the focus adjustment is the same knob that used to lock the blade at an angle.

While this may look like a waste of two beautiful tools, keep in mind these are equivalent to contractor saws you can pick up at Home Depot for $500 today. They’re not professional cabinet saws, they just look really pretty. They’re still a solid piece of metal, though, and refurbishing the frames into useful tools is probably the best thing you could do with them.

Thanks [Frankie] for the tip.

Wrapping Up The Last Midwest RepRap Festival

The Midwest RepRap Festival is over – forever. This was the last one. Apparently enough people complained that Goshen, Indiana wasn’t in the midwest. The number of Dairy Queens I passed contradicts this, but whatever. Next year, there’s going to be a different con in Goshen. Same content, different name. If you have a suggestion, you know where to put it.

I promised the world’s largest 3D printed trash can, and I gave you the world’s largest 3D printed trash can. This gigantic orange vase was printed on the PartDaddy, SeeMeCNC’s 18-foot tall delta printer a few months ago at the NYC Maker Faire. I have been using this as a trash can in my basement since then, making me one of the only people who have their trash can on Wikipedia.

A failed print on Saturday morning

Speaking of the PartDaddy, this is what a fail looks like. The first PartDaddy print was a Groot, a 13-hour long print job. It was left running overnight, but it ran out of PLA pellets sometime around 4 in the morning. If you’re wondering what the black band is around the Groot’s face is, here’s the breakdown:

The PartDaddy sucks PLA pellets up from a trash can (that’s not 3D printed), and dispenses it into a hopper above the print head. This hopper was 3D printed on the PartDaddy, and there is still a little bit of colarant dust in there. When the PLA pellets run out, that dust is embedded in the extrusion. When you realize that masterbatch is only about 5% of the finished plastic, it doesn’t take much black dust to discolor a print.

Yes, this is a print fail that could have been fixed by having an all-night bash. A few other people left their printers running overnight including [The Great Fredini] and his Scan-A-Rama. This was a Rostock Max that had something wonky happen with the Bowden. There was filament everywhere.

How about some Star Wars droids? An R2 from the Droid Builder’s Club was there, but there was also the beginnings of a completely 3D printed Roger. While we’re on the subject of plastic robots that will fall apart at a moment’s notice, there was a K’NEX 3D printer. Yes, it’s made almost entirely out of K’NEX, and it did work at one time. Those orange parts sitting next to it? Those came out of the K’NEX printer.  If you’re looking for the definitive RepStrap, there ‘ya go.



For the last few months, metal filaments – PLA with tiny particles of copper, brass, bronze, iron, or aluminum have been available. MRRF was the first place where you could see them all together. A few things of note: these filaments are heavy – the printed objects actually feel like they’re made out of metal. They’re actually metal, too: the iron-based filaments had a tiny bit of red corrosion, and the Lincoln death mask above was treated with acetic acid. These filaments are also expensive, around $100 for 1kg. Still, if you want to print something that will be around in 100 years, this is what you should get.

The most beautiful printer ever

MRRF should have had a contest for the best looking 3D printer at the show. A beautiful delta from Detroit Rock City would have won:


DSC_0075That white hexagon in the center is a ceramic PCB that I’m told cost an ungodly amount of money. Underneath the ceramic build plate, there’s a few Peltiers between the bed and the large copper heat sink. The heat sink is connected to the three risers by heat pipes, making the entire printer one gigantic heat sink. Why would anyone make such an amazing art deco printer? For this.

Because you can use Peltiers to heat and cool a bed, a little bit of GCode at the end of a print will cool the bed to below room temperature. If you do your design right, this means the print will just fall over when it’s done. When the print bed is cooling, you can actually hear the bond between the bed and print cracking. It’s beautiful, it’s cool, and I’m told this printer will make its way to soon.

There you go, the best and coolest from the last Midwest RepRap Festival ever. There will never be another one. It only needs a better name, and [John] at SeeMeCNC is great at coming up with names. Just ask what VIP is a backronym of.

I told you there would be a T-shirt cannon. That’s 300 PSI shop air.